MISSOULA — Montana has preached finishing strong in the fourth quarter this season.
The Griz will try to do that on the season as a whole, entering the final quarter of their 12-game regular season with a 7-2 record. They have an exciting slate of games on tap against renewed rival Idaho, No. 3 Weber State and longtime rival Montana State, ranked No. 12.
Montana, which moved up two spots to No. 6 in the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday, will start the final stretch against Idaho. It’ll be the Grizzlies’ first time hosting the Vandals since 2003 and the first game in Missoula in which both teams are members of the Big Sky Conference since 1994.
“We only have one game this week, so that’s the one we’ll talk about,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said at his Monday press conference.
“When the word ‘rival’ is used in regard to us, that’s others’ words, not our’s. So when I say that, it’s because someone on the other side has referred to us as a rival. We need to embrace that. This is a good place to play. We get everybody’s best effort when they come to our place. So, we have to embrace that.”
Idaho is having a roller-coaster season, largely playing up and down to the level of competition and not being able to win on the road. The Vandals beat then-No. 11 Eastern Washington and suffered close losses to FBS Wyoming, 21-16, and current Big Sky leader Weber State, 41-35.
Idaho has also had some shockingly bad scores, losing to regular conference bottom dweller Northern Colorado, 27-24, getting shut out by middle-of-the-pack Portland State, 24-0, and pulling out just a 10-point win over Division II Central Washington, 41-31.
The Vandals may be turning things around after winning back-to-back games for the first time this season by beating Idaho State, 45-21, and Cal Poly, 21-9. Those wins snapped a three-game losing streak and have Idaho sitting at 4-5 overall and 2-3 in league play coming to Missoula.
“The Idaho game, it’s been a big game in these parts for decades, for a long time,” Hauck said. “They’re playing well. They had a big win last weekend against Cal Poly. They had a tough loss against Weber State. And they beat Idaho State fairly handily. So, they’ve been playing really well lately.”
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The Vandals are coached by Paul Petrino, a Butte native, Helena Capital grad and former Carroll College quarterback. He’s in his seventh season at Idaho and has gone 27-53 overall, including 8-12 since moving back to the FCS and 5-8 against Big Sky teams.
“They’re really well coached,” Hauck added. “These coaches at Idaho know what the heck they’re doing. So, they’ll have their team ready. We know that they spent time on us in spring ball and fall camp. So, they’ll be well prepared. They’ll be ready to go. They’ll be fired up to play this weekend in Missoula. We know that we better be the same.”
The Vandals returned to the FCS last season and had a disappointing showing of 4-7 overall and 3-5 in league play with FBS talent on their roster. This year, they were picked to finish eighth in the league in both preseason polls
Montana and Idaho renewed their rivalry for the first time in 15 years last season in Moscow, Idaho. The Griz posted a 46-27 win in which they took a commanding 43-13 lead into the fourth quarter. It was Montana’s fifth straight win in the series and kept the Little Brown Stein in Missoula.
“When we played them, there was a lot of juice on their sideline certainly,” Hauck said. “Our guys were excited to play, too. It’s fun to get back playing each other again. But it’s interesting in this league because it was the same thing a week ago when we were getting ready for Eastern; a lot of our guys, more than half our team, had never even seen Eastern on the field.”
The status of Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed for the game against Idaho is still to be determined. He warmed up this past weekend at Portland State, but the coaching staff decided not to play him.
“Dalton wanted to play last weekend,” Hauck said. “He went out, warmed up. We didn’t think it was in his best interest and didn’t think he was ready, so we didn’t let him play. We’ll see this week how it goes.”
With Sneed out, Cam Humphrey has led the Griz to a pair of wins, one in which the running backs carried the load and one in which they relied on his arm. The defense showed up in a big way in both those games.
"Good team win," Hauck said of the most recent win, 38-23 at Portland State. "Great mental toughness when things weren’t going well for us. Right now, we’re kind of on a roll, and we’d like to keep it going."